My friend Matt “Matman” Herring, of the Secret Identity Podcast, launched his book THE UNOFFICIAL DOCTOR WHO COMPANION at NYCC last weekend. Matt asked me to write a foreword for the book, and I was delighted to. Here it is:
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EEEEEYYYYYYOOOOOOOWWWWWWWW DIDDLY-dum da-diddly-dum da-diddly-dum da-DIDDLY-dum…
It’s hard to overstate what a shibboleth that was, especially now the theme has changed almost beyond recognition. Children all over Britain used to shiver with anticipation at the dissonant and avant garde sounds of Delia Derbyshire and Ron Grainer’s weird music. Every week, it signalled excitement, danger, monsters, time travel, and — for many of us — our baptism into SCIENCE FICTION!
Not that DOCTOR WHO was ever a ‘pure’ sci-fi show. Originally conceived as a delivery method for the educational historical content, the show’s sci-fi has always been laughable to hard SF fans, and in recent years is almost indistinguishable from magic.
But not many ten-year-olds are hard SF fans to start with, and besides, this kind of sci-fi was always more acceptable to our parents; perhaps precisely because it was obviously escapism, a spiritual successor to the FLASH GORDON and BUCK ROGERS serials long before George Lucas dreamed about a boy called Deak Starkiller. And that acceptability made DOCTOR WHO a national phenomenon, a show that literally the whole family could and would watch together.
Of course, back then we only had three TV channels. And dinosaurs roamed the earth. But still.
That massive early audience ensured DOCTOR WHO’s place in our national imagination, making the TARDIS and Daleks and Cybermen part of the shared cultural conversation. If anything has kept the show alive for 50-plus years, beyond the dogged determination of TV creators and endless enthusiasm of devoted Whovians, it’s simply that. Even in the dark days of pre-2005 you could walk into any British pub, demand a Dalek impersonation, and be greeted by a rousing “EX-TER-MI-NATE!” by everyone from the landlord to the young regulars to the old soaks in the corner.
That’s powerful stuff.
So powerful that it’s crossed the pond, as we normally distance-averse Englanders refer to that Atlantic-sized body of water, and become a bona fide hit. DOCTOR WHO is now popular enough in north America that Brits finally understand how the Danish feel about our own fetishisation of THE KILLING.
And while Matt Herring, like most Americans, may be relatively new to the Doctor, he’s not new to me. In fact, I’ve known The Matman for almost ten years, which is crazy when I stop to think about it. But then that’s the magic of DOCTOR WHO — you don’t stop to think about it. You just let it drag you along in the rush of excitement, following the mad and dangerous alien man as he pulls us all into another non-stop, crazy adventure.
Except that some people do stop to think. People like Matt, who are thoughtful and meticulous enough to write a book like this; a public display of love and devotion, to be sure, but also a carefully curated catalogue of everything the new fan needs to navigate the perils of time and relative dimension in space. Matt’s nerd-blessed attention to detail and sheer Sisyphean persistence are exactly the right ingredients to produce this book, and bring DOCTOR WHO to anyone seeking it.
That torch-passing has always been at the core of DOCTOR WHO’s success. It belongs to each generation anew, and survives by adapting to the times, by refusing to age or decay. Instead of quietly going away, like so many sour-faced TV executives over the years have wished it would, DOCTOR WHO’s binary vascular system beats defiant and proud, each generation introducing the next to a show that simply refuses to die.
You could almost say it… regenerates.
(Cue withering look from companion.)
All together now! OOOOOOOOO-WEEEEEEEE-OOOOOOOOOOO…
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ANTONY JOHNSTON is an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of comics and videogames, including lots of sci-fi and horror stories, now that he comes to think of it. Even though Tom Baker was his Doctor, he never took to jelly babies.